Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-54, which focuses on creating further restrictions on the use of loans for political entities.
I understand the bill, if passed, will amend the pre-existing rules of the Canada Elections Act. This is legislation that touches on the national discussion of democratic reform, a discussion that has always been of great interest for all members of this House and, indeed, for many constituents across my riding of Churchill.
As some members in the House may know, the Churchill riding is a very northern riding in Manitoba and it covers more than half of the province of Manitoba. It reflects rural Canada and aboriginal Canadians, including first nations and the Métis nation.
Canadians expect their members of Parliament to be continuously working to find ways to enhance our nation's democracy. As parliamentarians, we must work together to foster a nation that values both civic responsibility and empowerment. These virtues are the centre of any debate on democratic reform.
Bill C-54 purports to establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors.
Strangely enough, the government's proposed provisions already exist in the current law.
The legislation is also designed to tighten rules of treatment of unpaid loans to ensure candidates cannot walk away from unpaid loans. This does not represent a substantive change to the law as, once again, there are already provisions in place to ensure that loans cannot be written off without consequence. Political riding associations would ultimately be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
This would allow only financial institutions and other political entities to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals, and only at commercial rates of interest, although the current law already requires all loans to be made at commercial rates of interest. Under the proposed legislation, unions and corporations would now be unable to make loans and financial institutions could not lend money at rates of interest other than the market norm.
While it seems that the government intended to increase transparency with this bill, the shortcomings of the bill, as it is currently laid out, are such that it would do nothing to increase accountability. Instead, Bill C-54 would build new roadblocks that would restrict the access Canadians have to the democratic process.
If passed as is, the legislation would give financial institutions the full say on who gets to run for political office in Canada rather than Canadians.
In line with the Conservatives' trends of discriminatory policies, the bill would negatively impact many Canadians, especially people in my riding, including first nations, minority candidates and, I believe, women for nomination. Canada is at the point in our history where the government should be continuing the Liberal legacies of encouraging greater participation in the democratic process. The government must celebrate our diversity through political empowerment rather than design laws that would hinder one's ability to run for public office.
The proposed changes would make it very difficult for Canadians, especially those of limited means and those with limited contact to potential wealthy contributors to even seek nomination in Canada because of the challenge of securing loans from banking institutions. I am curious as to whether the members opposite were intentionally doing this or perhaps it is an aspect of the bill that they merely overlooked. Either case, I think it is a question worthy of further exploration.
I also want to add that under Liberal leadership in this country, the government passed legislation that limited the roles of corporations and unions in electoral financing and introduced the most dramatic lowering of contribution limits in Canadian history.
The key difference between limiting the role of corporate and union contributions in political campaigns and limiting loans in the manner that the government has introduced is a matter of equity. I feel that their proposed approach would be regressive. Given this opportunity to advance this debate, we should seize the opportunity to democratize our institutions where available.
For some, the window of opportunity to influence policy may only come once every four year. Since the passing of Bill C-16, the next scheduled time Canadians will have the ability to voice their opinion for policy change will be in October 2009. This is not to say that the federal election will occur on that date but rather that it is theoretically conceivable.
Our democracy is an institution of the people and in order for such an institution to be truly meaningful it must be truly accessible, regardless of gender, race and social status. With this in mind, we need legislation that will address these demands for all Canadians.
I look forward to hearing other members' perspectives on this debate and observing how it unfolds in the near future.